Women’s State Pension Age - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 7:45, 26 March 2024

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for their comments. Some of what I will say chimes with the comments made by the noble Baroness. The Government are fully committed to supporting pensioners in a sustainable way that gives them a dignified retirement, while also being fair to them and taxpayers. We will carefully study the ombudsman’s recommendations in that respect.

I too am grateful to the ombudsman for conducting the investigation. The Government will provide an update to the House once we have considered the report’s findings; I will say a little more about the timings in a moment. Following the ombudsman’s five-year investigation —we should note that it has been five years—and his subsequent substantial report, it is right that we carefully consider his findings in full. That is work that this Government and the department are steadfastly committed to. I also make the point that the department has assisted the ombudsman throughout his investigation—which he recognises—by providing thousands of pages of evidence and detailed comments on his provisional views. As I said previously, the ombudsman’s chief executive herself has recognised that.

Something else that chimes with some of the remarks from the noble Baroness is that I well understand the strong feelings across the Chamber on these matters and the desire for urgency in addressing them. To echo points that have been made in the other place: these are complex matters, and they require careful consideration. It is therefore right that we take time to consider the ombudsman’s full findings.

There are many issues to consider, including that the courts concluded that the DWP gave adequate and reasonable notification of the state pension age changes. The ombudsman has noted in his report the challenges and complexity in laying the report before Parliament, through which he has brought matters to the attention of this House. We will provide a further update to the House, as I said earlier; but I also echo points made in the other place that it will be done with “no undue delay”.

The ombudsman is not saying that WASPI women suffered a direct financial loss, nor that all women in born in the 1950s will have been adversely affected. That adds to the complexity of the situation, which, again, is why the report requires proper and due consideration.

I turn to the points that were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about remitting to Parliament. In saying that we continue to take the work of the ombudsman very seriously, it is only right that we consider the findings of what is a substantial document. In laying the report before Parliament, the ombudsman has brought matters to the attention of the House, so it is important that it is considered very carefully.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised some points about the 2011 Act. The Pensions Act 2011 accelerated the equalisation of women’s state pension age by 18 months and brought forward the increase in men’s and women’s state pension age to 66 by five and a half years relative to previous timetables. The changes in the 2011 Act occurred following a public call for evidence and extensive debates in Parliament. During the passage of the Act, Parliament legislated for a concession worth £1.1 billion, which reduced the proposed increase in state pension age for over 450,000 men and women. That means that no woman will see her pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the timetable set by the 1995 Act. These reforms have focused on maintaining the right balance between the affordability and sustainability of the state pension and fairness between generations.

On the figures that were raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, I will cite a few statistics that may be helpful to the House. Around 3.5 million women born in the 1950s are impacted by the state pension age, and around 2.2 million men born between 6 December 1953 and April 1960 inclusive are also impacted. At the start of 2024, there will be around 790,000 women born in the 1950s who are still to reach their state pension age of 66. On the number of women who have died, which was also mentioned, the department offers its very sincere condolences to the families of the 1950s-born women who have died before reaching state pension age.

A question was raised about the referral to Parliament and not to the DWP, as well as the question of trust. In reply, I quote what the ombudsman’s chief executive herself said on Sky News last Thursday, the day the report was published:

“The Government, the DWP, completely co-operated with our report, with our investigation, and over the period of time we have been working they have provided us with the evidence that we asked for”.

I respect the independence of the ombudsman’s office and note that he has referred this matter to Parliament. His report notes the complexity and challenges involved. In laying the report before Parliament, the ombudsman has brought matters to the attention of this House. As I have said before, we will provide a further update to the House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about considering giving 15 years’ notice. She is right that it is important to give people enough notice about state pension age changes. In the last review of state pension age, the Government committed to provide 10 years. That is intended to provide sufficient time to allow people to plan.

I will finish by stating that this Government have a very strong record in supporting all pensioners; for example, in 2023-24 we will spend £151 billion on support for pensioners, which represents 5.5% of GDP. That includes around £124 billion for the state pension. We are committed to ensuring that the state pension remains the foundation of income in retirement—now and for future generations. Just to make the point, we are honouring the triple lock, which was mentioned on Sunday by the Chancellor, and is being put into the Conservative Party manifesto. Also, we are increasing the basic and new state pensions by 8.5% from next month. I mentioned earlier in the Chamber that we now have 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2010. I thank both Peers for their comments.